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Bible Commentaries

Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Genesis 34

Verse 1

‘And Dinah, the daughter of Leah, whom she bore to Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land.’

Note the stress on her pedigree. She was the chief’s daughter by his primary wife. It was not really wise for her to slip away from the camp alone to mingle with the women of Shechem, but she was young and thoughtless. The story indicates that she was now of marriageable age (twelve or thirteen) so Jacob clearly spent some years at Succoth. She was curious to meet these sophisticated town women, unaware that the morals of the tribe were very different from the morals of cities.

Verse 2

‘And Shechem, the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her. And he took her, and lay with her and humbled her.’

Like many petty princes Shechem was proud and arrogant and considered he did not have to behave as others did. When he saw the tribal girl who aroused his feelings more than any woman had before, he did not think twice about taking her and having his way with her. To him she was simply a ‘stranger’ in the land and therefore not very important. It may well be that he felt that by taking her he would render it impossible for her to marry anyone else.

“Humbled her.” That is, changed her status. There is an advancement in thought. First he took her, that is sent his men to fetch her, and then he raped her. And the final result was that she was ‘humbled’ and lost her status. She was morally and socially degraded and lost the expectancy of a fully valid marriage. No act to a woman of Dinah’s status could have been more cruel. We must recognise this when we consider the passage.

“Hamor the Hivite.” He was clearly the ‘king’ of Shechem. We do not know who the Hivites were but they are regularly mentioned as one of the tribes in Canaan. They were possibly connected with the Horites (compare Zibeon in Genesis 36:2 with 36:20-21, and indeed the name may be an alternative rendering, ‘v’ instead of ‘r’, either as an error in copying or otherwise. The LXX of Genesis 34:2 here and Joshua 9:7 renders Hivite as Horite which may suggest an original different reading ).

Verse 3

‘And his soul was powerfully attached to Dinah, the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the girl and spoke kindly to the girl.’

The love was genuine, and his final aim was honourable. But as his actions showed it was a selfish love which had not considered the consequences of its actions. He possibly even thought that the girl should be grateful for his interest. He could probably hardly conceive that Jacob might not want his daughter married to a prince, even if he was a Canaanite and not of the tribe.

Verses 4-6

‘And Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, “Get me this girl for my wife.” Now Jacob heard that he had defiled his daughter Dinah, and his sons were with his cattle in the countryside, and Jacob held his peace until they came. And Hamor, the father of Shechem, went out to Jacob to discuss things with him.’

“Get me this girl for my wife.” Shechem would have done well to take this step before the other. Then the problems would not have resulted. But when the sex drive controls men it inevitably leads to evil.

“Now Jacob heard that he had defiled his daughter Dinah.” When the news reached Jacob the shock would be total. Never would he have agreed to his daughter marrying a Canaanite, even a ruling prince. And to have the treasure of his heart defiled in this way would be unbearable. What was acceptable to Canaanites was the most blasphemous of acts to the family tribe. To defile their princess was sacrilege.

So Jacob immediately sends messengers to his sons. Then he waits and does nothing until his sons with their men have returned from the countryside. Without them he is powerless to do anything. Meanwhile Hamor comes to see him to discuss the situation. But behind it all lies the terrible thing that has been done to Dinah.

Verse 7

‘And when they heard it the sons of Jacob came in from the countryside. And the men were very grieved, and they were furiously angry because he had wrought folly in Israel in lying with Jacob’s daughter, which thing should not be done.’

When the news reached the sons of Jacob their anger reached fever pitch. In their eyes what had been done was unforgivable. It was a grievous sin. They came in from the countryside bent on doing something about the situation.

“They were furiously angry because he had wrought folly in Israel.” The phrase ‘wrought folly in Israel’ refers to what is seen as the most grievous of sins. It usually has in mind sexual sin of the worst kind but is also used of Achan’s sin in retaining what was devoted to Yahweh (see Deuteronomy 22:21; Judges 20:6; Joshua 7:15). The word for folly is nebala, seemingly an expression for what is basically sacrilege.

It has been suggested that the reference to ‘Israel’ might suggest that the last part of the sentence was a note appended later to emphasise the depth of the sin in order to explain why the brothers behaved as they did, and that may be so. On the other hand the brothers had fresh in their minds the dedication of the altar to ‘God, the God of Israel’, which could explain the use here with the tribe having a new sense of their identity as ‘Israel’. In other words they saw the sacrilege committed on Dinah in the light of the recent dedication of the tribe as Israel and it made the sin even more heinous. They had become established under a new name in the eyes of their God and now almost immediately this slight on the new name had occurred. Shechem had taken that which was devoted to Yahweh. Thus the phrase ‘folly in Israel’ may well have arisen from this incident.

(That the use of the name Israel is now fairly regular comes out in Genesis 35:21-22; Genesis 37:3. Thus its use here when the setting up of a permanent altar to ‘God, the God of Israel’ has recently taken place is to be expected, especially in a context referring to sacrilege).

“Which thing should not be done.” This re-emphasises the awfulness of the crime. It was clearly felt very bitterly.

Verses 8-10

‘And Hamor entered into discussion with them , saying, “The soul of my son Shechem longs after your daughter. I beg you, give her to him to wife. And you make marriages with us. Give your daughters to us, and take our daughters to yourselves. And you will dwell with us, and the land will be before you. Dwell and trade in it, and obtain your possessions in it.” ’

Hamor’s words are addressed directly to Jacob (‘your daughter’ - although ‘your daughter’ might mean a daughter of the tribe as with ‘your daughters’ and ‘our daughters’, compare the brothers’ use in verse 17) but intended to include all the brothers (them). He recognises that great offence has been caused and seeks to defuse the situation by offering very favourable terms. The invitation to become full members of the community might have been welcomed by many semi-nomadic tribes. It would no doubt include having land of their own and a settled future, being absorbed, like Lot was, into the community, although not all semi-nomads would be pleased so to lose their independence.

But from the religious point of view it would have been the end of the covenant and the destruction of what they stood for. Inter-marriage would have introduced the tribe practically to Canaanite religion of the most debased kind, and settling down and being absorbed would have cancelled the covenant.

There are interesting contrasts in the story that unfolds that are psychologically accurate. Hamor and Jacob, the wise patriarchs, concerned to put the matter right as far as possible and reduce the tension, ready to compromise and wishing to settle the matter peaceably. Shechem, still not fully aware of how deeply he has offended. After all it was only a tribal woman and he was offering her a great privilege, and so he was thinking that all could be settled by marriage and a sufficient payment. The brothers, totally unwilling to compromise, believing that a dreadful sacrilege has been committed and determined that at any cost they will have vengeance. These were the constituent members of that meeting. And it was the brothers who took over. Jacob finds himself thrust to one side, but is willing to go along with his sons, not realising their full intentions, and only too relieved that a possible solution can be found.

Meanwhile Dinah is being held in the king’s house (Genesis 34:26). This may have been for protection, or because of her distressed state, or possibly to ensure that the marriage went forward. Either way it is clear that hidden pressures are being put on Jacob.

Verses 11-12

‘And Shechem said to her father and to her brothers, “Let me find favour in your eyes, and what you say to me I will give. Ask me never so much dowry and gift and I will give in accordance with what you say to me, but give me the young woman to wife.” ’

Shechem too can see that the brothers are infuriated and consider that he has offended. But he has no doubt that they can be bought over. And he is ready to pay whatever they ask as long as he can have Dinah for his wife. She has inherited the beauty of Sarah and Rebekah. He is probably bewildered by all the fuss. He is after all the darling of the people.

Verses 13-17

‘And the sons of Jacob answered Shechem and Hamor his father with guile, and spoke, because he had defiled Dinah their sister, and said to them, “We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a reproach to us. Only on this condition will we consent to you, if you will be as we are, that every male of you be circumcised. Then we will give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters to us, and we will dwell with you and we will become one people. But if you will not listen to us then we will take our daughter and we will be gone.” ’

“With guile.” It is unusual in Genesis for an explanation to be given for the motive of what is said. Thus the reference to guile shows that the writer wants us to know that what later happened was the brothers’ intention from the start. It is again stressed that their motive is based on what has been done to their sister Dinah. She has been defiled, both socially and religiously. All that follows is thus but preparation for their revenge.

The issue that they take up is circumcision. It is probable that more explanation was actually given at the meeting but the writer is aware that such was not really in question and omits any mention of it. There was no real idea of the men of Shechem entering the covenant community. The fact was that the brothers simply saw it as a means of disabling the men of Shechem. Outwardly they are agreeing to the terms outlined by Hamor, but inwardly they have only one purpose in mind, justice and revenge, for before we judge them too harshly we must recognise that this was a case where justice and revenge went hand in hand. A terrible sacrilege had been committed and they required justice to take its course. They felt that they had no choice. Sacrilege must be expiated. And that involved the death of the offender. And because the offender was the king’s firstborn and the darling of the people, they knew that they too would have to be dealt with.

We rightly cringe at what follows. But we must remember that it was then a regular occurrence for cities to be invaded and taken over, and that it was necessary for semi-nomads to make clear to others that they could not be trifled with. All too often they were the sufferers. But unquestionably here this is all exacerbated by the sense that a great sacrilege has been committed against ‘God, the God of Israel’.

“We will take our daughter and be gone.” Here ‘daughter’ is used to signify a daughter of the tribe. This last phrase is a deliberate attempt to accomplish what they want, the disablement of the men of Shechem. They clearly hoped that Shechem’s passion was enough for him to agree to their proposal. Had he not done so murder might have taken place on the spot regardless of the consequences. They did not really intend to ‘be gone’.

Verses 18-19

‘And their words pleased Hamor, and Shechem, Hamor’s son. And the young man did not seek to put off doing the thing because he had delight in Jacob’s daughter, and he was honoured above all the house of his father.’

Both Hamor and Shechem were taken in by the deception and were willing to accept the terms, Hamor as the doting father, and Shechem as the love-sick suitor. Indeed the thought of being circumcised did not daunt Shechem one bit because he was so in love. And his position would ensure acceptance by others in his household, for if he would do it why should they not? They would all do as they were told. This description has the air of being written by an eyewitness to Shechem’s enthusiasm. But it would not be so easy to persuade the men of Shechem as a whole to agree to the act. That required diplomacy.

Verse 20

‘And Hamor and Shechem his son came to the gate of their city, and consulted with the men of their city, saying.’

The gate of the city was where the leading men would meet in dealing the city’s affairs. Hamor could not just dictate terms. Most petty kings were subject to the guidance of their counsellors and had to take their people along with them in major decisions. Thus although he and his son have agreed to the terms they now have to carry their counsellors along with them.

Verses 21-23

“These men are peaceable with us. Therefore let them dwell in the land and trade in it. For behold, the land is large enough for them. Let us take their daughters to us for wives, and let us give them our daughters. But only on this condition will the men give consent to us to live among us to become one people, and that is if every male among us be circumcised as they are circumcised. Will not their cattle and their substance and all their animals be ours? Only let us give consent to them and they will live among us.”

These words remind us once again how large a family tribe Jacob has. His wealth is clearly sufficient to impress a small city and its inhabitants and make their continued presence worthwhile. There is no suggestion of a threat (Hamor is totally taken in) it is all promise. They will be given spare land of which there is a plentiful supply and be absorbed into the community along with their wealth. And the city as a whole will gain by this increase in its wealth, for once they are an established part of the community the possessions will be looked on as in a sense the community’s as well as Jacob’s.

Thus the subtle Hamor and the influential Shechem convince the townsfolk of the benefit of the agreement without admitting the real reason. And the only thing they have to do is to be circumcised, something which was clearly a well known practise elsewhere. Two prisoners of a Canaanite king on a 12th century BC Megiddo ivory were circumcised, as is an Egyptian boy on a sixth dynasty tomb relief which depicts his circumcision. A flint knife was used there as among the descendants of Abraham (see on Genesis 17:0).

Verse 24

‘And all who went out of the gate of the city paid heed to Hamor, and Shechem his son, and every male was circumcised, all who went out of the gate of his city.’

“All who went out of the gate of the city.” That is the freemen. The slaves would have no option. All were circumcised as Hamor and Shechem had suggested. It was a small price to pay in return for such an increase in riches, and their king and prince were clearly convinced that it was for their good.

Verses 25-26

‘And it happened on the third day , when they were sore, that two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took each man his sword and came on the city unawares and killed all the males. And they killed Hamor and Shechem his son with the edge of the sword, and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house and went out.’

The third day was when the circumcision operation laid men lowest and they were feverish with their wound. Then it was that Dinah’s brothers Simeon and Levi moved in to exact justice and demand blood to expiate the sacrilege against Dinah. They would be accompanied by their retainers, possibly supplemented by other tribal members, but because of their status as full blood-brothers to Dinah it was seen as their right and responsibility to exact punishment.

The other sons of Leah are not mentioned. Simeon and Levi were seemingly the most warlike of them and most suitable for the enterprise, and they would appear to have been appointed by general agreement to carry out the enterprise. (Jacob will later decry the attributes that made them seem so suitable (Genesis 49:5-7).)

No one in the city, which would be an open unwalled city, was prepared for the assault and inevitably the men were caught unready in no condition to put up a good fight. It is specifically stressed that Hamor and Shechem were put to death. This was necessary expiation. At the same time Dinah was released from her ‘imprisonment’.

“They killed all the males.” It was a bloody business, but this was necessary to prevent retaliation.

Verses 27-29

‘The sons of Jacob came on the slain and spoiled the city because they had defiled their sister. They took their flocks and their herds and their asses, and whatever was in the city and whatever was in the surrounding country. And all their wealth and all their little ones, and their wives, they took captive, and spoiled even all that was in the house.’

Once the expiation had been carried out the remainder of Jacob’s sons moved in to plunder the city. They despoiled the city and took possession of all the belongings of the inhabitants, including their wives and children. And the reason is again made clear. It was due to their sacrilege.

Verse 30

‘And Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me, to make me an unpleasant odour among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites, and I being few in number, they will gather themselves together against me, and smite me, and I will be destroyed, and my household.”

Jacob is not pleased at what his sons have done and had clearly not been expecting it. They had not brought him in on their plans. But his concern is not so much over what has been done as with its consequences. If the surrounding close neighbours gather together to take revenge they are not strong enough to fight them and thus Jacob will lose all he has as well as being in danger of being killed himself. It was not for this that he had built up his wealth. So he rebukes them severely. Was the rape of Dinah worth it?

Verse 31

‘And they said, “Should he deal with our sister as with a common prostitute?” ’

They are justifiably indignant. It is they who have been wronged. What else could they do and retain their honour? Their sister had been treated like a common prostitute, available for men whenever they desired. The tribe had been insulted and violated. The covenant had been besmirched. We may decry what they did, but men in their day would have fully understood its necessity.

We may pause to consider that sometimes the way of compromise is necessary, but when deep sin is involved such compromise is unacceptable. In the terms of their day Simeon and Levi were justified in what they did. And by it, although it was not their motive, they protected the ongoing of the covenant and preserved the purity of the tribe. As ever God moves in mysterious ways in the bringing about of His purposes.

(It would in fact be a mistake to assume that the patriarchs never killed anyone. It was sadly a normal part of life when people were wealthy and vulnerable. We certainly know that Abraham would have done so in rescuing Lot and all the patriarchs had riches and herds to defend and we can be sure that attacks on them were many. Their men were trained to fight for that very reason. Bloody fights would have been fairly commonplace. The difference here is that a whole town (but very small by our standards) was involved. But as we have seen the circumstances were very special.

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Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Genesis 34". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/genesis-34.html. 2013.